Summary and Analysis of COP17/CMP7-The Durban UN Climate Change Conference

Dec 14th, 2011 | By | Category: Advocacy, Carbon, China, Climatic Changes in Himalayas, CoP17, Development and Climate Change, Government Policies, Green House Gas Emissions, India, News, UNFCCC

IISD Reporting: The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, was held from 28 November – 11 December 2011. The conference involved a series of events, including the seventeenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 7).

In support of these two main bodies, four other bodies convened: the resumed 14th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA); the resumed 16th session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP); and the 35th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

The Conference drew over 12,480 participants, including over 5400 government officials, 5800 representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations, and more than 1200 members of the media.

The meetings resulted in the adoption of 19 COP decisions and 17 CMP decisions and the approval of a number of conclusions by the subsidiary bodies. These outcomes cover a wide range of topics, notably the establishment of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, a decision on long-term cooperative action under the Convention, the launch of a new process towards an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all parties to the Convention, and the operationalization of the Green Climate Fund.

After the frustrations at the Copenhagen conference and the struggle to rescue the multilateral climate regime in Cancun, negotiators in Durban turned a corner and not only resuscitated the Kyoto Protocol but, in doing so, adopted a decision that will lead to negotiations on a more inclusive 21st century climate regime. There was a strong sense that elements of the Durban package, guided by a need to fulfill long overdue commitments that go back to the Bali Roadmap, restored sufficient momentum for a new negotiation process, one that will continue to witness a series of differentiated interests across and within the traditional lines of division between developed and developing countries. Many welcomed the adoption decisions including on the Green Climate Fund, and the Durban Platform, as well as the process to launch an agreement with legal force, while others continued to insist on the urgent need to significantly scale up the level of ambition to address the gap between existing mitigation pledges and the needed emission reductions recommended by science.

This report summarizes the discussions, decisions and conclusions based on the agendas of the COP, CMP and the subsidiary bodies.

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A BRIEF ANALYSIS OF COP 17 AND CMP 7

UBUNTU: THE MEANS AND THE ENDS FOR A NEW ERA IN CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS?

“I am because you are.” African Proverb

Stirring a sense of history and leadership, the South African hosts challenged negotiators in Durban to embrace the spirit of Ubuntuor interdependence. Across time and space, the defining challenge was to transform the troubled past of the Kyoto Protocol and re-imagine a 21st century multilateral climate change regime where the gap between sufficient levels of mitigation and the competing demands of science and politics will be closed by a transparent commitment to equity. In parallel, entrenched boundaries and positions were shaken up and critical new alliances were forged to facilitate agreement on a balanced package that extends the Kyoto Protocol and initiates a process to design a successor agreement while building new institutions to focus on the implementation of both adaptation and mitigation.

The negotiations were driven by a series of interdependent linkages—some constructed to drive the negotiations forward, some integral to the field of climate change politics, and some based decisively on an understanding that 21st century global challenges need global solutions. This brief analysis examines some of the defining interdependencies that help tell the story of the Durban Climate Change Conference and the launch of a new phase of climate change negotiations.

FINDING MIDDLE GROUND

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress. Mahatma Gandhi

At the outset, expectations were modest with many countries feeling that “operationalizing” the Cancun agreements was all that could be achieved. Others wanted a balanced and interdependent package within a year that resolved the Kyoto Protocol question, moved to a new legally-binding treaty and operationalized the Green Climate Fund.

During the first week in Durban, delegates quietly began frank conversations, helping to outline respective political “red lines,” on a series of related and dependent elements, notably the fulfillment of outstanding business from Bali, Cancun and Copenhagen. The process was helped recently by a recovery in the negotiating dynamic and momentum wherein key participants began to appreciate both the positions being put forward by their counterparts and respect the domestic circumstances and constraints that inform them—with just a few notable exceptions from within the ALBA countries.

Although the line-by-line review of text remained painstakingly slow on dozens of issues, parties began to seek “mutual reassurances” on what the South African Presidency called the “bigger picture,” and, critically, how to reconcile the looming termination of the first Kyoto commitment period at the end of 2012 with the challenge of codifying the 2020 pledges that were made in Cancun in a new and inclusive instrument capable of reflecting the need to capture and support different kinds of effort in a common framework. Any new instrument must provide a common legal architecture while reflecting and supporting the variable efforts of countries at different points on the development spectrum, thus respecting while recasting the Convention’s principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. In Durban early informal consultations helped to clarify the technicalities of the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, especially the two-stage approach that defers the definition of quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs) and their adoption as amendments to Annex B to the eighth session of the Kyoto Protocol Meeting of the Parties, proved very useful in keeping prospective participants on board.

The debate over how to manage the eight-year window between the end of 2012 and 2020 created space for the “roadmap” championed by Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, and her colleagues in the EU. Ever since Copenhagen, the EU had indicated a readiness to raise their level of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, but not alone—and not unless other UNFCCC parties moved rapidly to launch negotiations for a new and inclusive legally binding agreement under the Convention for all emitters. This core demand drew legitimacy from Bali and helped frame the Durban negotiations. Indeed it is arguable that the EU drafted the script for the central plot in Durban by setting out their stall early in the process and offering to do the heavy lifting to save the Kyoto Protocol within the context of a roadmap that put up a challenge to other parties—developed and developing.

Parties addressed the risk of a gap between the first and second commitment periods but will submit their voluntary QELROs by 1 May 2012 in a “pledge and translate” exercise that, unlike Kyoto, will not be derived, for now, by an overall aggregate level of ambition. Parties’ unilateral pledges will be converted to QELROs without reference to an overall global mitigation target, not to mention one that is evidence-based. This helps to explain some of the skepticism among environmental NGOs regarding the prospect for the ambitious effort required to stay within the global temperature range of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius. 

Progress on each element of the Durban Platform unlocked other elements. For example early in the second week, delegates made headway on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention; a fund expected to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020.  Reports of early progress on the GCF—a priority deliverable for the South African hosts and the region, proved to be a major contributor in raising the stakes. A fragile sense of possibility emerged as Ministers arrived, although there were increasing concerns about the diplomatic management of the process by the South African Presidency.

Drawing on African traditions, COP President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane called for a series of Indabas, in a spirit of Ubuntu (interdependence) hoping the parties would find wisdom in “coming together to solve common challenges for the larger community.” They convened several Indabas, ranging from plenary hall reports, to technical sessions for negotiators to a table of 50+ Ministers in the final days. When these ministerial sessions ran their course and seemed to fail to take full advantage of the window that was opening for a deal, certain parties began to push the Presidency to take a more proactive approach to identifying and brokering outstanding issues. The Presidency responded and a number of helpful conference room papers were distributed at the Indaba sessions, setting out different approaches to the second commitment period in table format together with elements of a “bigger picture.”

NEW POLITICAL GEOMETRY

Only free men can negotiate. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. Nelson Mandela

Critically, in a deeply complex mix of issues, with essential and constructed linkages across the package there was an onus on the Presidency to draw on all available talent and experience to line up the interdependent chain of deliverables with clarity and dexterity. Even as late as Thursday evening, anxiety was rising and, in the wee hours of Friday morning, a relatively closed high-level Indaba of 26 parties representing the major negotiating groups began to hammer out the final terms of a deal. This was also helped by a parallel set of ministerial-led facilitations and bilateral meetings to seek common ground.

It took a critical engagement between the EU, AOSIS and LDCs to really inject a sense of direction and pace into the negotiations as the countdown to the end of the Conference began. There was a palpable shift in the atmospherics after EU Commissioner Hedegaard joined with AOSIS and the LDCs in issuing a public statement backing the EU “roadmap” plan linking the second commitment period to the early launch of new negotiations under the Convention. As news of the Commissioner’s battle behind closed doors emerged, there was an extra spring in the step of European negotiators as Hedegaard’s brinkmanship in Durban drew stark comparisons with Copenhagen where the Europeans had found themselves isolated and out on a limb in their attempts to lead from the front and champion a second commitment period.

But gaining support of AOSIS and the LDCs was not enough. It was deemed essential that the EU assure China and India that they would simply be expected to turn their Cancun pledges into new legal arrangements. As one observer noted, the 2020 timeframe for any future instrument under the Convention was a source of some reassurance to BASIC countries that their Cancun pledges and their timeframes would be acceptable. The Presidency and the EU were able to lock in the relatively constructive role of countries such as Brazil. While China seemed content to allow India to do BASIC’s heavy lifting and profile the “equity” issue, an issue—alongside common but differentiated responsibilities—that has helped define the contest over contemporary rights to development and the debate over mitigation commitments.

Equity will come to the fore in the negotiation of a new instrument as the distribution and pace of mitigation responsibilities increasingly mirrors a debate on access to ecological space, driven by an ethical demand from the least developed and most vulnerable that the world must overcome a form of “atmospheric apartheid” wherein the glittering prizes of development have—to date—been heavily concentrated in the hands of the few. It’s a demand that also finds an echo in popular protests in response to the crisis-prone global financial system. An intriguing decision recognizing loss and damage also points to the future prominence of the equity debate.

The EU concession to BASIC countries on allowing any new instrument under the Convention to be implemented “from 2020” drew fire from its AOSIS allies and environmental NGOs, some of whom have severely criticized the Durban Platform. While there was some compensation in the final package under the 2013-2015 Review to enhance mitigation ambition, they are still concerned that this will be too little too late.

With complex issues and strains on even the most natural alliances there was an onus on the Presidency to weigh in and offer reassurance as one party’s interdependence sometimes became another’s unacceptable price. At the outset some observers wondered how the South African Presidency would respond to the competing loyalties to BASIC and the African Union. On the one hand, and significantly, BASIC spoke in plenary for the first time ever as a united negotiating group. On the other, the Presidency inevitably sought to align the potential wins in Durban with their leadership role on the African continent. Determined that the Kyoto Protocol would not be “buried in African soil,” the African hosts sought to capitalize on the quid pro quo of a second commitment period and a renewed, science-led, determination to close the “mitigation gap” by pressing home their advantage in the form of closure on the Green Climate Fund, arrangements for the Adaptation Committee, and new technology capacity.

Although there was enough political ground to secure a deal, it was not until the final moments on the floor of the plenary that the ultimate deal fell into place. Described as a “defining moment,” a last-minute “huddle” on the plenary floor—perhaps the most authentic of all the Indabas—in the early hours of Sunday morning enabled the EU to reach a compromise with India on an option to describe the new UNFCCC instrument in acceptable legal terms. At the eleventh hour, they agreed to launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an “agreed outcome with legal force” under the Convention applicable to all Parties. It is an issue that could come back to haunt the Europeans who might well discover with the passage of time just how big a compromise they made to India, if other countries choose to construct an “escape hatch” around the legal terminology that falls short of a new protocol.

VIRTUAL INDABA

The Internet is the town square for the global village.  Bill Gates

As climate change negotiators in Durban marked the 14th birthday of the Kyoto Protocol, the air in the conference rooms was thick with a sense of both the troubled history of climate politics and a historic opportunity for inter-generational change and redefined responsibilities. Veteran negotiators who invoked personal memories of their formative days negotiating the original Convention and/or Protocol knew that their audience reached far outside the room to a virtual global society wanting meaningful and immediate action. As one religious leader put it, “We’re here to bear witness for the planet.” The popularization and bandwagoning effect of climate change politics is one of the major transformations since Kyoto and this shift was all too evident, once again, when Ministers’ statements were instantaneously tweeted from inside the Indaba rooms out to the global village. Combined with the South African Presidency’s commitment to the Indaba format—designed to encourage a true participatory and open process of deliberation, the transparency of Durban had a number of unexpected consequences. Not least was the effect of depriving some ALBA negotiators of an opportunity to repeat—with credibility—complaints about exclusion. In contrast, Ministers, negotiators and youth delegates found themselves sometimes competing for the same seat in the Indaba room. 

Outside the official negotiating rooms, civil society held their own Indabas. Climate change COPs have evolved into a carnival-like forum for the latest trends in climate change with a dizzying array of events competing for attention and mindshare. From side events, displays of green technology, marches and colorful protests, to real time commentary over the internet through Twitter, Facebook and thousands of blogs, civil society Indabas are something that a transparent COP host has to manage. South Africa certainly understood the virtual social media huddle could render swift judgments to the champions of ambition and ridicule for those who did not measure up to the ambitions of the global environmental community. At one point the President convened a meeting at a critical endpoint in the negotiations with, apparently, little other purpose than to ensure that global civil society’s expectations were raised and primed to maintain pressure on Ministers and their negotiators.

A high point in civil society’s management of their presence—in the corridors of the International Conference Centre (ICC) at Durban and in the global media—was a moment that brought together South Africa’s 20th century struggle with the new frontline in 21st century struggles for climate justice. With negotiators apparently on the brink of breakthrough or deadlock, a former ANC activist, now head of Greenpeace, led delegates in chants of anti-apartheid anthems seeking climate justice. Dozens of traditional and new media practitioners were on hand to produce an iconic image of the Greenpeace activist as he co-opted the trappings of the UN for a well-executed piece of agitprop and was led away by UN guards to be expelled from the ICC. This was a supreme example of the way in which climate politics have been transformed by the professional politics of media spectacle—on this occasion drawing on a deep tradition of South African activism twinned now with a new technological capacity that brings climate politics to every screen.

A NEW ERA IN CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS

While 21st century global challenges certainly need global solutions, it is important not to forget that climate change has very local impacts. One such story loomed over the Conference. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled a tragic encounter with a child in Kiribati who could not sleep soundly for fear that he would be stolen away in the night by a rising ocean. This story captures the urgency of the dilemma confronting negotiators—the call to respond to the most vulnerable states and their peoples facing the impacts of climate change. The story also speaks of an impatient generation of young people who care passionately about the issue because they will “live their lives in the future.” This is a future of networked interdependence that stands in stark contrast with the geopolitics of dependency that marked most of the 20th century and the era that gave rise to the Berlin Mandate and Kyoto Protocol.

These are the voices calling across generations for urgency and increased ambition on targets to ensure that temperatures will not rise more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. And these are the voices that recognize that the only bridge that will span the current gap in ambition is a global ethic of inclusion and fairness built on foundations of transparency and accountability. These are the voices bearing witness in the corridors, engaging with delegations, disseminating every twist and turn in the negotiations in the unforgiving virtual public commons of the internet where negotiators are held to account in real time. These are the voices that have judged the Durban Platform harshly.

Negotiators, however, who embody the incremental expectations of the institutions they serve, judge themselves with more modest benchmarks. From their point of view, after the trauma of Copenhagen and the struggle to rescue the multilateral climate regime in Cancun, negotiators in Durban turned a corner and not only resuscitated the Kyoto Protocol but, in doing so, leaped to a decision that will see negotiations on a more inclusive 21st century climate regime with something approaching symmetrical reporting systems for country efforts on mitigation. The variable but symmetrical architecture of any new instrument will be important for countries such as the United States in convincing skeptical domestic publics that a truly universal effort is now in prospect. To paraphrase one US negotiator commenting at the conclusion of negotiations, the sales job just went from impossible to very hard.

There was a strong sense that elements of the Cancun-Durban packages, guided by a need to fulfill long overdue commitments from Bali, restored sufficient momentum for new negotiations that will need to be shaped by moving beyond the traditional lines dividing the developed and developing world. This transcendence was first signaled in Bali but only came into full view after Copenhagen. A fluid new set of coalitions is now taking shape, defined by shifting interests. However, those who look first to science to measure success were the least enthusiastic about the Durban Platform, for they know that—once again—the endemic incrementalism that has haunted climate negotiations since 1992 continues to force compromise on sufficient commitments on mitigation. The prospects for something different this time remain to be seen.

With the completion of several work programmes and the establishment of new bodies at the UNFCCC expected in 2012, there will be a rationalizing within the climate change governance system to create a greater focus on implementation and transparency. Countries must now define strategies to deliver a global and ambitious climate treaty in four years and citizens will turn their attention to build support for action in their domestic political and economic systems as the uncertain road opens up to what some in China call an emerging “ecological civilization.”

This analysis, taken from the summary issue of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin © <enb@iisd.org>, is written and edited by Soledad Aguilar, Asheline Appleton, Joanna Dafoe, Elena Kosolapova, Velma McColl, Leila Mead and Eugenia Recio. The Digital Editors are Leila Mead and Brad Vincelette. The Editor is Pamela S. Chasek, Ph.D. <pam@iisd.org>. The Director of IISD Reporting Services is Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI <kimo@iisd.org>. The Sustaining Donors of the Bulletin are the Government of the United States of America (through the Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs), the Government of Canada (through CIDA), the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and the European Commission (DG-ENV). General Support for the Bulletin during 2011 is provided by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Government of Australia, the Ministry of Environment of Sweden, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, SWAN International, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Ministry of Environment (through the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies – IGES), the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (through the Global Industrial and Social Progress Research Institute – GISPRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Funding for translation of the Bulletin into French has been provided by the Government of France, the Belgium Walloon Region, the Province of Québec, and the International Organization of the Francophone (OIF and IEPF). Funding for translation of the Bulletin into Spanish has been provided by the Spanish Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs. The opinions expressed in the Bulletin are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IISD or other donors. Excerpts from the Bulletin may be used in non-commercial publications with appropriate academic citation. For information on the Bulletin, including requests to provide reporting services, contact the Director of IISD Reporting Services at <kimo@iisd.org>, +1-646-536-7556 or 300 East 56th St., 11D, New York, NY 10022, United States of America.

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Langston James “Kimo” Goree VI , Director, IISD Reporting Services

 

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